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Chris Collins

11.05.16
Dave Mason

Growing up with a father who’s been a highly respected member of the Rochester NY-area hockey community for more than 40 years, Chris Collins has led a hockey life.

Skating from the age of three on his family’s backyard rink, Chris played local minor hockey before moving to Toronto to play in the GTHL at the age of 13. While playing his freshman and sophomore years in his hometown at Fairport High school, he began his junior hockey career with the Rochester Junior B Americans. He then played a year at Taft School in Connecticut before playing a season in the USHL with the Des Moines Buccaneers, where he put up 65 points—26 goals and 39 assists—in 60 regular-season games, and finished as the league’s top-scoring rookie.

In four seasons at Boston College, he accumulated 63 goals and 59 assists in 162 games, and, in his senior year, led the nation in scoring and finished as the runner up for the Hobey Baker Award.

After playing in the AHL, German and Finnish pro leagues, he returned to North America to begin a new phase, working alongside his father Glenn, brother Greg—former captain at University of New Hampshire and European professional, and sister Kelly—the first woman to play men’s varsity hockey at Fairport High School and the all-time leading scorer in women’s hockey at SUNY Oswego. Their innovative development program, ESG Evolution Sports Group, is dedicated to fostering a love of hockey while it teaches skills and proficiency, and simultaneously helps to develop well-rounded athletes and people.

Also a head coach with the Rochester Grizzlies Youth Hockey program, Chris is an early adopter of PowerPlayer.

Given your extensive hockey background, you’ve no doubt experienced a lot of coaching styles. What’s your approach?  We work with kids from learn-to-skate—as young as two years old—up to college age. We want to create an environment where kids fall in love with the game and want to get better, so that means it has to be fun! Come by our rink on any given day and you’ll see hula hoops, soccer balls, toys, and rope swings. You’ll see kids doing things on and off the ice that may seem a little out there, but that are designed to help them with specific aspects of skating and hockey. I know from experience that if you don’t fall in love with the game as a kid, when the game gets hard you won’t want to keep going.

How does that play out in the way you teach kids?  We always want to be innovative. For example, I played for a few years in Europe and learned a lot about skating instruction techniques over there—things like jumping over objects and landing on your outside edges. As kids, my brother and sister and I played unstructured street hockey or floor hockey, and that’s how we developed not only hockey skills but interpersonal skills. So we have a three-quarter size rink where we let kids play small-area games that recreate that experience. And you know what, they work hard because they want to! Make it fun and kids will compete against each other. And they improve without even thinking about it.

What first attracted you to PowerPlayer?  As coaches and trainers we’re always looking to track player development and see progression, not only skill development on the ice but also development as people off the ice. PowerPlayer’s ability to track character development as well as metrics for skill tests was a home run for Greg and me. There are thousands of great hockey players in the game today, so it’s the character players have and the type of people they are off the ice that will separate them and take them to the next level. PowerPlayer allows us to track and develop exactly that.

How does PowerPlayer fit into your program and philosophy?  For coaches, players and parents, PowerPlayer is the perfect solution. Of course parents want feedback about how their kids are doing, but for a lot of coaches that’s problematic. Some just don’t feel comfortable talking to parents, some are worried about possible disagreements. And meetings are time-consuming. PowerPlayer allows coaches to collect and communicate not only tangible metrics but also provide opinions that can help players and parents understand what they’re seeing in a player. Over time it can show kids and parents the things that kids need to work on and how they’re improving. The system can track a player’s progression in so many areas, skating and stick skills for sure, but also coachability and their overall understanding of the game. It really bridges the gap between parents and coaches.

What other advantages do you think PowerPlayer might provide for your organization?  We’re big believers in sharing ideas. We work closely with development programs in Boston and Newfoundland, and PowerPlayer will allow us all to compare kids in one place against kids in the other places. We’ll use PowerPlayer data to measure the results of specific training techniques—skating or puck skills for example—then make informed decisions about which are most effective.

We also work hard to help kids achieve their hockey and education goals. We want to help young people create characteristics that matter, to be well rounded. For them to have a PowerPlayer account that shows their hockey progress and capabilities—and their character—over time will be huge. Every player in our system will have an account, so when they want to go on to prep school, junior or college hockey, they’ll have that record, that hockey report card, that they can share with coaches and recruiters.

Does having data to support your player assessments help?  Absolutely. As coaches, we can provide opinions or assessments of kids, but if they’re backed up by long-term metrics that illustrate what we’re talking about, that’s very helpful to diffuse or eliminate those potentially awkward parent meetings. And imagine being able to show a PeeWee kid who’s maybe an average skater that another kid who’s now playing junior or college had the same skating score as them at their age. There’s a huge opportunity for encouragement there.

You’re early in the game in terms of PowerPlayer use. How much of the system have you used?  We’ve completed off-ice shooting and stickhandling tests, on-ice skating and puck skills sessions, collected some baseline fitness metrics, and have started inputting game play and practice ratings. We plan to continue to add data every week throughout the season. All of our coaches are on board, and our approach is the more input the better.

What’s your personal approach to technology?  Haha! I’d say I’m reasonably tech savvy! I love social media, and I’m always eager to learn and improve. In my opinion, the game is changing and technology will just become a bigger and bigger part of it. For example, innovations in training techniques have to keep pace with things like innovations in stick technology. The new sticks make it possible—and maybe necessary—for players to shoot off their front foot. That’s a 180 from the old days. So new thinking is necessary. PowerPlayer is part of that.

How have you positioned PowerPlayer to your players?  They know they’re being measured and it shows. For example, every day at our place the kids do an off-ice skill workout related to skating, stick work or shooting. We’re going to be tracking that stuff through PowerPlayer and that lets them know that it all matters. They love it. They love competing to jack up their numbers and to beat their buddies. That’s good for everyone.

What’s the most exciting thing about PowerPlayer?  I just love the fact that PowerPlayer will allow us to compare kids from different areas of the world. It’s almost like the kids are training together. PowerPlayer feels like a connecting force. That’s good for the kids, good for the parents, good for the coaches, and good for the game.